I almost choked on my lunch when a colleague mentioned this story. It turns out that the government of Uganda is planning to slap a new tax on social media users from July to raise revenue.
Finance Minister Matia Kasaija told Reuters in a phone interview that the tax will charge each mobile phone subscriber using platforms such as WhatsApp, Twitter and Facebook 200 Ugandan shillings (USD0.05) per day. He dismissed concerns it could limit people’s use of the internet.
I especially appreciate how caring this minister is. He told Ugandans:
We’re looking for money to maintain the security of the country and extend electricity so that you people can enjoy more of social media, more often, more frequently.
Museveni’s government of course blocked access to Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp during the last general election in 2016. His fellow strong men in other African countries were impressed and they imitated him in Congo, Burundi and Cameroon. Africans are well represented on this site that tracks such shutdowns.
Uncle Museveni has decided to kill two birds with one stone – apply some cost on freedom of expression and make money for his regime while at it, so that he can innovate better ways of controlling the citizenry. It is not enough that he has ruled the country since 1986. Having realised that 40% of his people use the internet and a lot of them are on social media, this must have been the next logical step.
Beyond the politics, there is of course the headache of administering this social media tax. For operators in Uganda, the charging model just became a little more complex. Volume based charging just will not cut it so they have now to move to examining URL per user session. Mini-bundles, which have been gaining traction in telcos, might just be out of the window because operators must render unto Museveni what is due to Museveni.
We are living in interesting times!